Colours of devotion

: Delicate: Patachitra painter Srinivasa Mohapatra demonstrating his skill.

: Delicate: Patachitra painter Srinivasa Mohapatra demonstrating his skill.   | Photo Credit: Photo: R. Shivaji Rao


Srinivasa Mohapatra, who inherited the skill of Orissa’s ‘patachitras’ from ancestors, is showcasing his exquisite work at Utkalika.

Srinivasa Mohapatra and his family are a part of the annual, 14-day chariot festival (rath yatra) of Orissa’s 12th century Jagannath Temple. During the yatra, the ‘sthirabaras’ or ‘moolavars’ of Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are taken out in a procession through the streets of Puri.

Mohapatra’s ancestors have traditionally been commissioned by the temple to make ‘patachitras’ or paintings of the deities, called ‘Anasara Patti,’ to be placed in the sanctum sanctorum during the two-week yatra period

For Mohapatra, who takes part in this annual ritual of creating ‘Anasara Patti,’ the exercise is both an expression of devotion and ‘sewa’ for Jagannath and his hereditary craft of ‘patachitra.’

Art has a history

The Orissa craft of painting on ‘patas,’ or specially prepared canvas, has an ancient history with the art resembling the fifth century B.C. murals of the region. The best work comes from Raghurajpur, where Mohapatra lives in a community of traditional chitrakars along with his father Benudhar Mohapatra (a national-award winner) and cousin Uday (a State awardee).

Srinivasa explains the process by which the ‘cloth’ canvas is specially prepared. “We spread two or three layers of cloth and stick the layers together [by smearing] tamarind gum, and allow the cloth to dry. We then prepare a mixture of chalk powder and tamarind gum which we spread evenly on either side of the layered cloth. This is allowed to dry. We then polish the surface with a stone, giving it a leathery feel and on it we execute our paintings.”

Stone and earth colours are used for painting the ‘patachitras.’ The vivid yellow for the background comes from heating and rubbing the ‘haritaal’ stone, the white from heating shankh or (conch) shells, brown from red-oxide, while black is derived from placing a metal plate over a burning wick. Popular ‘patachitra’ themes are drawn from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the life of Krishna, Gita Govinda and so on. The sketch is first done with a thin brush and then filled in with colour. The facial features of the are stylised while the seemingly moving figures have a languid sensuous grace.

Painting comes alive

As Srinivasa Mohapatra deftly puts the finishing brush strokes on a blue Krishna in eternal idyll with Radha against a background of lapis lazuli skies, grass the colour of parrot’s wings and a tree filled with delicate leaves, the ‘chitra’ comes magically alive transforming the prosaic environment of the Chennai exhibition hall. As it has done through centuries on Orissa’s temple walls and the sanctum of the Jagannath Temple. Today ‘patachitra’ has morphed like many temple crafts into wall hangings, book marks, greeting cards and much more.

Srinivasa Mohapatra’s exquisite ‘patachitras’ can be seen at Utkalika’s exhibition on view till May 12 at C.P.Art Centre, Mini Hall, 1, Eldams Road.

Recommended for you